Kingswear — Slapton
and back again.

It took a while to encourage everyone that it was still a good idea…

An idea that gestated when dad took the plunge and bought himself a new bike. We had flirted with the idea of group rides between my dad, my brother in law (Ben) and myself for a while but it had never quite happened for a multitude of reasons.

#lanesnotlaps #southwestisbest

It took a while to encourage everyone that it was still a good idea…

An idea that gestated when dad took the plunge and bought himself a new bike. We had flirted with the idea of group rides between my dad, my brother in law (Ben) and myself for a while but it had never quite happened for a multitude of reasons.

However, through 'Al' – a family friend – a catalyst had been set. Al had entered into the draw to ride the Prudential Ride 100 in August. I had ridden the mass cycling event in 2015 and regaled others with the cathartic joys of 'longer distance' cycling, told while wearing spectacles of a rose nature. Apparently this was enough to tip the balance and in a moment of frivolous optimism we all entered the ballot.

Right, now we had better start training…

So with a fresh bike and fresh motivation we were all keen to test the legs (and bikes), so a weekend was arranged for Ben & I to travel to Kingswear, where my parents lived, to test our metal against the hills of South Devon. We were all set. The weather however was doing its best to discourage the bike party. With the 'calm before the storm [Henry] (BBC weather)' setting in for the afternoon, a tentative decision was made, to adhere to 'Rule 5' and get on with it.

Waiting for the Lower Ferry at the start of the ride in Kingswear.

'Nice Day For It.'

Excitement was fighting the 'stiff breeze' as we crossed the river Dart via the lower ferry. The usual conversations of 'nice day for it,' and 'you're mental,' passed the time on the short crossing and did well to take our minds off the impending slogs up and out of Dartmouth (explaining 'Rule 5' or 'Rule 9' to these guys would have been pointless, I don't think they'd heard of the Velominati…).

A reconnaissance of the route told me that within the first few kilometres we would be pitched up some serious gradients right off of the ferry. As a tourist and a city boy in these parts I 'attacked' the lower part of the climb, which would quickly reveal itself to be a mistake. I was gasping for air half-way up and was nigh on stationary by the time I crested the summit. Due to my exuberant (and naive) self belief I had reached the end of the climb first and busied myself gulping in as much oxygen as I could before the others came into view. This was more to hide my embarrassing mis-calculation than anything else.

Once we had all re-grouped and I had returned to a regular breathing rate we pushed on – Myself with a new respect for the Devonshire contours and all of us knowing that just around the corner, beyond Blackpool Sands was the second hit [hill] of the day.

The views were worth the efforts – this was before the weather really closed in.

'No pain, No gain.'

Luckily by the second incline, our legs had woken up from their tea and cake slumber and everything went much smoother. My lungs felt much happier to remain in my chest, and I got to admire the view down through the valley to the English Channel.

After an exciting descent – made more exciting by late braking from mud coated roads – we arrived at a rather turbulent Slapton Sands. This was the part that I was looking forward to the most. I had grown up viewing this road from the sea and then on Instagram accounts of riders much more capable than myself. The idea of my past and presents coming together was exciting to me, and sharing that experience made it all the more enjoyable.

Slapton Sands, the first time I’ve crossed this stretch of Devon by bicycle.

This sinew of Tarmac runs along behind Slapton Sands and threads between a lake on one side and the English Channel on the other. On a day like today it is a particularly dramatic environment, with Ben stating he felt that his wheels were being blown out to sea and his body being pulled in to land by Henry's 'calm' gusts. With nothing between the sea and the mainland to shelter us we really felt that BBC weather were somewhat underselling this 'calm.'

Looking out over the Channel. No sign of France in these conditions.

Despite the billowing breeze I could take this time to roll alongside Dad for a chat. He told me how the beach was used to train allied soldiers in WWII in preparation for the Normandy landings and despite it being only training exercises, soldiers lost their lives here. Even tales of a German sub-marine infiltrating English Waters (something I've promised myself I will look up for myself. Update: More info). At the end of the stretch of road bridging the waters sits an old dormant army tank as a sobering reminder of the beaches history.

I felt slightly guilty that all I could offer in return were anecdotes regarding how cycling teams use formation to shelter riders from the wind. To be clear, my dad is not old enough to have served in the War but I felt guilty all the same that I had no idea about the beaches history.

As a newcomer to the world of road cycling my Dad seemed suitably interested in the intricacies of the peloton that I was regurgitating which then lead me to day dream of future discussions of Le Tour and epic attacks on the slopes of Europe's favourite mountains. Maybe he was just being polite, but it was a welcome diversion from the heavier topics of war.

'Pretty soon we returned to climbing.'

Once we reached the other side of the bay the road turned inland and pretty soon we returned to climbing. From here onwards we would ascend back out of the valley on the day's final 'full' climb. Then we would cruise through undulating lanes on our way back to Dartmouth.

At the last real summit of the ride we pause for a quick re-fuel.

With the last real climb checked off we set about clocking up the undulating peaks & troughs of Dartmouths back lanes. This is a high contrast against my regular rides around London and it's neighbouring counties. The country lanes were constantly alive with gradient changes, punctuated with stunning –even in these conditions – views either of the moody sea or the rolling hills. We were now counting down the kilometres, as we had passed the halfway point, but I could have done this all day. I was loving it.

The ‘calm before the storm’ became a phrase soaked in sarcasm as the ride went on.

Despite my claim that the climbing was virtually done for the day there were still a number of punchy pitches among the undulations. One descent and subsequent ascent appeared as cliffs on my Garmin's elevation read out. With each of these 'hits' my Dad threatened a dismount. Continually urging Ben and I to 'go-on ahead.' However not once did he deliver on his threat. I have long suspected that my competitive nature is rooted in my dads unwillingness to quit and today I was witnessing it first hand. Despite his lack of experience, lack of technique and lack of appropriate clothing – I'm sorry Dad, a trade jumper and tracksuit bottoms are not appropriate cycling kit – he kept turning the pedals.

Ben arriving above Dartmouth...

'riding over two hours in consistent drizzle and wind could either make or break your motivation for cycling...'

...with Dad shortly behind.

He crested each hill, a little out of breath maybe, but on his bike. What's more, when we reached the crest of Dartmouth's 'naval college hill' and descended into Dartmouth itself he even joked about a second lap. I laughed nervously, I wasn't sure I had it in me, was he serious?! Luckily he was not. But keeping a positive attitude after riding over two hours in consistent drizzle and wind could either make or break your motivation for cycling. Luckily for me (again), it had appeared to do nothing to dent his enthusiasm and I look forward to many more rides with my 'old man' in the future.

Still smiles as we catch the ferry back to Kingswear, Hot Showers and a fry-up.


Words & Pictures — Jack Sadler